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Of Mice and Men is almost a long short story, divided into six chapters. Steinbeck takes great care to develop the tragic plot in a classical fashion. The first two chapters are largely expository, describing the isolated setting, introducing the characters, and developing the relationship between Lennie and George. The rising action begins in the third chapter with the confrontation between Curley and Lennie. When the huge man easily crushes Curley’s hand, his strength is actually seen for the first time and foreshadows that there will be trouble on the ranch. The fourth part of the book focuses on the theme of loneliness and develops Curley’s wife, who is shown to be a lonely woman, constantly seeking company. In the fifth chapter, her loneliness leads her into the barn, where she engages Lennie in conversation. It has been clearly foreshadowed that nothing good can happen in this encounter. In fact, Curley’s wife is the instrument causing the tragic ending of the book. In a flirtatious manner, she asks Lennie to stroke her soft hair. When she feels his powerful hands that do not know how to be gentle, she panics, screams for help, and brings about the climax of the novel. When Lennie covers her mouth and shakes her to be quiet, he breaks her neck. The sixth and final chapter includes the falling action and inevitable outcome of the tragedy. Lennie must be punished for killing Curley’s wife, even though it was truly an accident. To save his friend from a cruel end in Curley’s hands, George shoots Lennie himself.
Because it is a short novel, it is tightly held together. The opening scene of the book pictures George and Lennie beside a stream; the last chapter of the book is the same setting. In the first chapter, George tells Lennie to come back to the stream and hide in the bushes if there is trouble on the ranch. In the next four chapters, George reminds Lennie of the hiding place, and Lennie tries hard to remember it. In fact, in the sixth chapter, he is very proud of himself for remembering to come to the stream and wait for George. The end of the novel works and is believable because Steinbeck has taken great care to emphasize the hiding place throughout the book.
Two Themes also hold the book together. In the first chapter, George and Lennie talk about their dream of owning a farm; Lennie is particularly enthralled with raising rabbits there. In every chapter of the book, the dream of the farm is discussed, and Old Candy convinces George and Lennie to let him join them in their dream. Curley’s wife scoffs at the dream; Crooks does too at first, and then contemplates joining them on the farm, hoping to find a place where he is not treated with such prejudice. The dream, however, comes to an abrupt end with Lennie’s death. Before George shoots him, he asks Lennie to picture the farm in his mind, for he wants him to die believing the dream will come true.
The theme of loneliness is also seen throughout the book. The actual setting of the farm is lonely and isolated. The ranch hands share a bunkhouse with one another, but have no family and no emotional ties. One by one they express their loneliness. Old Candy begs to go the farm, so his last days can be filled with companionship and happiness; he fears being treated like his old dog. Crooks, because he is black, is forced to live in a shed by himself and is not allowed to interact with the white workers. Because Curley’s wife is miserable on the ranch and dislikes her husband, she also feels isolated. Because George and Lennie have each other, they are the only ones on the ranch who do not feel the misery of loneliness. Unfortunately, after George has to kill Lennie, he becomes the loneliest of all the characters. He has lost his best friend and his life’s dream.